Tag Archives: climate change

You Yangs koala adult male face

Koala population decline in the You Yangs, Victoria

Awful, but hopeful.

In preparation for our first Koalas & Tree Planting community event on November 15, 2018 I felt that a graph would best show the decline in koala population. Little did I know how powerful that would be.

chart showing wild koala population decline over 11 years

This is a terrible graph, charting the premature deaths of many koalas. But it is also a hopeful graph.

Hopeful? What??

Yes, because in the You Yangs we now know we have a problem. And once a problem is known, action can be taken to fix it.

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The simple fact is that the same catastrophic declines are happening everywhere.  These findings are in line with WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report, that shows a 60% decline in wild animal* populations worldwide.

But its hard to make decision-makers listen if you don’t have data.  Now we have data.  Now we are taking action.

At our Koalas & Tree Planting Event in Little River on November 15, 2018 we showed and explained these images, and others.  Learn how everyone can do something to save our koalas and turn this graph around.

See the presentation here.

An explanation of the graph

We started koala research in the You Yangs in January 2006 – ten years into the Millenium Drought: the worst drought in Australia’s history. The koalas had been suffering since 1996, and would not get any relief until 2010.

The first year of research gave us a foundation to work on, so by 2007 we had a clear picture of the population. We could already see that there were very few joeys being born.

As you can see, koala numbers fell significantly each year until 2010 when they plummeted. We lost one-third of our koalas over the summer of 2009-2010. Thankfully, the rain came in 2010 and gave us some relief.

chart showing wild koala population decline over 11 years

The next few years saw a return to near-normal rainfall conditions, and small increases to the koala population. But koalas living in poor habitat don’t breed that fast. Most of our females breed from age 2 to 8 years, and some only have a joey every second year. A few of our females don’t ever successfully breed at all.

Importantly, the trees have not recovered. The rains kept them alive, but weren’t enough to make them thrive again.

Here’s two pictures of the same River Red Gum tree, in 2008: 12 years into a drought (when you would think it would be at its worst); and in 2015: after 5 years of ‘normal’ rainfall.

And no, its not just that tree.  Take a walk in the You Yangs – the River Red Gums are in poor condition right across the park. See some other then and now pictures of the forest here.

comparison of River Red Gum tree in You Yangs from 2008 to 2015

Koalas suffer from poor tree condition long before we can see the tree is in poor condition.

The koalas and the trees of the You Yangs haven’t had time to return to pre-drought levels of fitness. And now, in 2018, we’re in another drought.

We have to act decisively to save the koalas of the You Yangs. The current trajectory is a recipe for local extinction.

….

What can we do?

We can’t make it rain.

But we do have a plan. Plant koala trees downhill in the river valleys and drainage lines of the Western Plains. It was koala habitat in the past, and could be again. Beside the rivers the soil is wetter than in the You Yangs. The correct local indigenous trees will grow fast there.

Read how we plant koala trees in “Koalas Need Farmers”

In addition, on hot days, wind blowing across waterholes and dams is cooler than the surrounding air. Trees along rivers and around waterholes and dams are highly preferred by koalas on hot days.

We can stop the local extinction of koalas in the You Yangs region. Act now.

We will run another Koalas & Tree Planting Event: contact us if you want to be invited.

koala clancy foundation tree planting near You Yangs Victoria

How did we get this data?

A koala research project started by Janine Duffy grew into a comprehensive research project involving 20 people monitoring +/- 43 koalas 310+ days a year. Around 3600 koala observations are taken every year. Funding for the project comes from a social enterprise tourism operation: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours.

Echidna Walkabout’s Wild Koala Research Project is the only research on koalas in the You Yangs, and one of very few projects monitoring a natural (non-abundant) population of koalas in Victoria.

Read about our 2017 summary of Wild Koala Research in the You Yangs here.

REFERENCES & NOTES:

*vertebrate animals: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2018

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_Australian_drought

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Koalas do drink - wet koala in the rain

Do Koalas drink?

Koalas don’t drink, says the legend. But they do!

True, koalas drink in a slightly different way to most animals.

Koalas are arboreal – which means they live in trees. They do almost everything high in a tree. They mate, give birth, eat, urinate, defecate …. AND  drink in a tree.

When it rains, koalas do drink by licking the raindrops as they run down the trunks of gum-trees. Watch:

This sort of koala drinking works best on smooth-barked eucalyptus trees, for example River Red Gums, Yellow Gums and Blue Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis, E. leucoxylon & E. globulus/pseudoglobulus). It is possible that koalas move to these types of trees to drink when they expect rain.

Koala drinking also works best on vertical large branches and trunks, so that the rain pools and runs down into their mouths.

wild koala drinking by licking rain

We have watched koalas rush to get into a good position for drinking.

They also get more moisture from gum-leaves if they eat while its raining. We have seen that koalas are more likely to start feeding if its raining.

Their method of drinking relies on rain. Rain needs to be fairly consistent. Unfortunately in many parts of Australia rainfall is less consistent – some areas, like the You Yangs where these videos are taken, are experiencing record low rainfall, other regions are having floods.  Reliable rainfall is yet another casualty of climate change in Australia.

koala licking rain off tree

Koalas are thirsty. And not just in summer.

Research conducted by the University of Sydney has found that koalas will drink from water troughs mounted in trees, all year round.

Support Wild Koala Day on May 3. Share a koala post on social media. Tag #wildkoaladay. Call a politician. Show our governments that its time for them to act on climate change.

Koala wet from rain | Koalas do drink

LINKS:

http://www.wildkoaladay.com.au/

https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/03/03/koalas-driven-to-drink-by-climate-change.html

 

WATER FOR KOALAS

Spraying water on koalas

In the summer of 2009-2010, in the 14th year of a terrible drought, one third of our wild koala population died. The cause was heat and dehydration. The location was the You Yangs, just west of Melbourne, but similar stories were heard all around south-eastern Australia.

The predictions of our scientists* were coming true – climate change was here and koalas were dying from it.

Here at Koala Clancy Foundation we looked for a solution. We consulted the research – koalas die in extreme heat, partly from dehydration and partly from heat stroke. After a long drought, our koalas were already dehydrated. We had to cool them down and get them water.

So we started spraying our koalas with water. We tried all sorts of equipment, and nothing worked well – until 2016 when we discovered the Chapin industrial slide sprayer. Watch:

The Chapin sprayer is powerful – it delivers a large volume of water a long distance. We can spray a koala that is 3 or 4metres up a tree. This means that we can get water to more koalas than ever before, and the disturbance we cause to the koala is less.

The Chapin sprayer needs no power, and makes almost no noise. So we can use it again and again, anywhere.

With a Chapin 15 litre (4 gallon) backpack attached, we can walk in to koalas that are a long distance from the nearest road. The backpack is quite comfortable even when full of water.

Koala Clancy after water spraying
Koala Clancy looking refreshed after a spray
How this happened:

On a very hot day in late 2016 we arrived with a volunteer group doing a Koala Conservation Day. A male koala was found, sitting unresponsive very low in a tree. Our Koala Researcher Mel prepared our old hand-held sprayer, arranged the group to wait a distance away, then slowly and quietly approached the koala. She had to get within 2 metres of him before she could start spraying, and to do this she had to be very quiet – most wild koalas object to a close approach, and will climb up the tree out of our reach.

Luckily this day the koala did not move, and she could spray him well. The whole volunteer group watched – and one of our regular Koala Clancy Foundation members took photographs.

The koala was relieved and refreshed by the water. He started moving around, licking the water off his arms and body. It was obvious to all that this water was restorative, and might have even saved his life.

Koala Clancy Foundation Member Jonathan was excited by what he saw. He knew this was a solution, but there had to be a better way. He started researching sprayers, and found the Chapin slide sprayer. He bought the first one and sent it to us to try.

We were stunned by the results. We no longer had to wait until a koala was near death from heat stress to offer them water. We started spraying more regularly, whenever the temperature was over 30 degrees.

Jonathan approached Chapin Manufacturing about buying more sprayers. To our amazement, they donated two full backpack sprayers with slide spray wands.

Since then we have brought water to Koala Clancy, his mother Pat, his father Anzac, and KiKi & KozoBitjarra, Lluvia, Winberry and many others in the You Yangs.

We hope that it will help these koalas live long wild lives.

wet koala
Koala Pat licks her wet fur after a spray. Licking wet fur and wet tree trunks is an important source of water for koalas.
Postscript:

During this process other research has emerged from the University of Sydney showing that koalas will use “drinkers” (small water troughs) placed in trees. We are also exploring this option. It is more difficult to place drinkers on public land due to high risk of vandalism, and it will also be hard to install enough drinkers to benefit all koalas. So in time we may end up with a solution that includes both drinkers and spraying.

REFERENCES:

https://chapinmfg.com/

Industrial slide sprayer wand: https://chapinmfg.com/Product/slug/chapin-6002-industrial-slide-sprayer

15litre Backpack sprayer: https://chapinmfg.com/Product/slug/chapin-60100-4-gallon-home-and-garden-backpack-sprayer

*Davies NA, Gramotnev G, McAlpine C, Seabrook L, Baxter G, Lunney D, et al. (2013) Physiological Stress in Koala Populations near the Arid Edge of Their Distribution. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79136. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079136 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0079136

A Day in the Bush for Koala Conservation

After moving to Melbourne three years ago from Tasmania, where a day in the bush was a regular occurrence, the busy city lifestyle had become overwhelming. So when the opportunity to spend the day planting trees presented itself, I jumped at the chance to get some fresh air and my hands dirty.

The Koala Clancy Foundation runs conservation days fortnightly in the You Yangs to help protect the wild Koala population that lives there. Through partnerships with local farmers, the foundation aims to grow Eucalyptus trees. This will connect the You Yangs with Little River, one of the only permanent water sources in the area.

Trees planted on our day in the bush
The dark green markings are the trees that the Koala Clancy foundation have planted in 2017! They won’t show up on Google Maps for another 10 years – about the time that Koalas will be able to use the trees.

Due to climate change, gum trees in the You Yangs hills are drying out. Koalas are dying of thirst because they get all their water from the leaves. Planting trees near the river means that those leaves hold more moisture, creating a quality food source for Koalas. Through these conservation days, the Koala Clancy Foundation is ensuring that Koalas can live in the You Yangs for years to come.

The Sunday that I attended the conservation day was bleak and dreary. Whilst the weather wasn’t ideal, it did nothing to dampen my spirits. Being in the bush and away from the blaring sounds of a busy city was a welcome change to my normal routine. Not to mention the fact that I was helping wild Koalas!!

mecompressed and edited

 

The holes were already dug so planting the trees didn’t require too much manual labour. All that was left to do was place the tree in the hole and create a windbreaker so the little plant could grow into a tall tree, strong enough to hold a Koala.

Through the great strengths of teamwork, it only took us a couple of hours to plant three hundred trees. By the time we were finished, we were frozen on the outside but warm on the inside; buzzing from the fulfillment of doing something meaningful.

We weren’t cold for long though, warming up in a cosy shearing shed with fresh muffins and hot cups of tea and coffee. The simpleness of the meal in the shed was a refreshing way to unwind after a busy week of work and uni.

Edited group funny

After refuelling, we headed off to see the very animals that we had spent the morning helping. We found Bungaleenee, an older male koala. Bungaleenee won’t live to see our trees grow at Little River but his kids and grandkids will!

Seeing Bungaleenee after helping him impressed on me that animals are not objects. They’re individuals.

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Spending a day in the bush and away from the busy traffic and blaring noise of the city was a great way to spend my Sunday morning. Getting home that afternoon I felt refreshed from the crisp air and fulfilled for getting my hands dirty. I was surprised to find that I had developed a personal connection with Bungaleenee and his family.

Olivia Bilson

Spend a day in the bush and get your hands dirty with the Koala Clancy Foundation – find out more here: https://www.koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/you-can-help/koala-conservation-day

Koala Karma: a snake, a koala & a lonely Red Gum.

A ripple in the water caught the eye of Mel, Koala Researcher. “Look, an eel” she cried out to the volunteers gathered around the Little River, on Melbourne’s Western Plains. As a Wathaurong Aboriginal Woman, she had visited this stretch of river many times, and had sometimes eaten eel caught here.

But she soon realised it wasn’t an eel at all. Eels don’t swim on top of the water. Eels don’t have beautiful yellow and black bands along their bodies.

There was a sudden flurry at the riverbank as Mel and volunteer Jess – who had been filling water buckets – got out of the water in a rush. The Tiger Snake was swimming right for them.

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All gathered around to watch the snake disappear into the vegetation at the side of the river. They were there to water trees they had planted six months ago. This Aboriginal-owned property, Wurdi Youang, was one of the first private properties to partner with Koala Clancy Foundation to return native River Red Gums to the riverbank for the benefit of koalas.

The property is not where you might expect a koala to live. Acres of swaying, golden grasslands stretch to the horizon, framed by the blue triple peaks of the You Yangs. Kilometres of river wind through the property, but the only tree is a single, lonely multi-trunked River Red Gum. This tree clings to life in a place that would once have known thousands of its kind. It has at least three birds nests in it – a nest of a large raptor, a raven nest and a mudlark nest – and is an important home for birds, lizards, insects, fish and the odd snake.

We came here intent on providing company for that lonely Red Gum. For one Red Gum, generous as she is, is not sufficient for a koala. And in ten years You Yangs koalas, like koala Pat and 1 year old koala KiKi who we’d found earlier in the day, will need a home.

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All along the bank, green plastic tree guards could be seen. There were 500 of them in August 2016. Every 20 metres a grey green bushy growth appeared out of the top of a guard – these superheroes had sent their roots into the deep damp soil, ensuring they could survive summer. These few will be the mother trees of the future.

Others were desperately hanging on, 3 or 4 withered leaves just above the tree guard. But they had made it this far, so with autumn bringing cooler days they had a good chance. Still more were gone, sad circles of dust where the baby tree had not made it.

Life is tough on the open plains, and only superheroes survive. But every tree that lives improves conditions for the next planting – there will be shade for seedlings next summer, less erosion, fewer weeds to fight off. In time a forest of 20,000 trees will grow along this stretch of Little River: 10,000 moisture-rich River Red Gums to feed a koala, 5,000 leafy Blackwoods, Black & Silver Wattles to shade a koala on a hot day, and to feed Brushtail and Ringtail Possums and Sugar Gliders at night. Another 5,000 Silver Banksias, She-oaks, Tree Violets and Melaleucas to attract insects and birds that are part of the ecosystem that koalas need to live.

With climate change drying our forests and changing the chemisty of eucalyptus leaves (1), koalas will need moisture-rich eucalyptus in rivers and drainage lines on the Western Plains. Koala Clancy Foundation is taking action now to make this forest a reality.

As if to illustrate the wide-reaching effects of our tree planting, as we left a magnificent Spotted Harrier flew across our path. Her huge, black-tipped wings reached wide embracing the plains. Perhaps it was her nest we saw in the lonely Red Gum. If so, her neighbour the Tiger Snake had better watch out.

Creatures of the air, the trees, the land and the water had come out to show us that, maybe, when you do a good thing for a koala, you are rewarded. Call it Koala Karma.

Koala Clancy Foundation needs your help. Koala Conservation Day for Locals runs the first and third Sunday every month all year.

  1. Lunney, D et al (2012) “Koalas & Climate Change: A case study on the Liverpool Plains, north-west New South Wales” pp 150-168  in Wildlife and Climate Change: towards robust conservation strategies for Australian fauna.  View

Koalas and climate change

Koalas are one of the species most at threat from man-made climate change (1). Why? Many reasons – I’ll outline some here.

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Young female koala “Misty” in summer 2014, forced the spend the day in the dam due to excessive heat. In this position koalas are vulnerable to attack and they are scared, but overheating will kill them if they don’t do this. They take this option in utter desperation and fear for their lives.

 

1. Climate Change will increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires.

Bushfires kill koalas (2).  They always have.  In one example we have personally witnessed 90% of the koala population killed by a bushfire. Under natural conditions the koala population would slowly recover or recolonise from nearby unburnt habitat.  But that takes time, and plenty of suitable adjoining habitat.  Increasingly, koalas have neither.  Due to climate change, bushfires are happening more often, to more forest, are hotter and more deadly.

So what’s the answer?  We must fight climate change.  But we won’t stop the bushfires immediately.  However, we can give koalas more habitat to retreat to, and recolonise from.

2. Climate Change will increase the frequency of heat waves. 

Koalas have limited options when the day is too hot.  They are not able to quickly vacate an area affected by a heatwave. They often have no access to water.  So when the temperature exceeds 37 degrees Celsius day after day, they simply overheat and die.

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young female “Aris” overwhelmed by heat sits at the base of a tree in the You Yangs. The researcher monitored her for some hours before taking her into care. Note how far away the researcher is – this is our recommended distance for monitoring a wild koala. Aris stayed in care for a few weeks, was vet assessed and found to have nothing wrong so was released healthy.

 

Due to climate change, heatwaves are occurring more regularly throughout the koala’s range.  Two heatwaves in the summer of 2009 in Gunnedah killed 25% of the region’s koalas (3).

So what’s the answer? We must fight climate change.  But again, we won’t stop the heatwaves soon enough to save koalas.  What we can do is save/plant trees near water.  Rivers, dams and lakes cool the air and koalas are attracted to these water bodies in heatwaves.  They will also drink and sit in water if they need to. So by planting trees near water, we can make it easier for koalas to survive heatwaves.

3. Climate Change will make trees less edible to koalas. 

Koalas need eucalyptus trees, they basically eat nothing else.  Eucalyptus is poor-quality fodder, already rich in toxic chemicals, tannins and poisons, and low in water, protein and carbohydrate.  Increasing temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the air are expected to increase the toxins/tannins in eucalyptus leaves and decrease the protein (4).  So a tree a koala can eat today – a ‘good tree’ – will become a ‘bad tree’ – a tree they can’t eat, or can only eat in small doses – in a couple of years from now.

So what’s the answer?  More habitat.  Each koala will need more trees to live off in future so that they can choose the ‘good trees’ over the ‘bad trees’.  The areas of koala forest we currently have we must keep, and new ones need to be planted.

There are many other ways that climate change will affect koalas, but these are the ‘big guns’.

Decisive action needs to be taken, and quickly.  You can help:

  • If you are buying a house, make sure the developer did not clear forest to make that land available.
  • Think twice about buying agricultural products from Queensland and native timber products from NSW or Victoria.  These states are clearing forest at an alarming rate, largely for increased agriculture and timber/wood chips.  Queensland & NSW are also the states that have seen the largest drop in koala numbers.
  • Buy and use recycled paper.  Try not to use disposable paper products.
  • Support our Make a Home for Clancy Project – you can donate here, buy a Koala Tshirt, or come on one of our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tours, or, if you’re local, a Koala Conservation Day for Locals.

Sources:

(1) IUCN report: 10 species most vulnerable to climate change  https://www.iucn.org/iyb/about/species_on_the_brink/species_climate/#3

(2) National Koala Management Strategy: http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/165139fc-3ab5-4c96-8b15-d11a1ad882ab/files/koala-strategy.pdf

(3) Wildlife and Climate Change: http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=bG8bAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA150&dq=koalas+gunnedah&ots=d5XrBjIHkx&sig=zko7ty772sdIw0xjww9Z5lIPQFo#v=onepage&q=koalas%20gunnedah&f=false

(4) IUCN koala fact sheet: http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/fact_sheet_red_list_koala.pdf